HiLobrow is proud to present the thirty-fifth installment of Robert Waldron’s novel The School on the Fens. New installments will appear each Saturday for thirty-eight weeks. CLICK HERE to read all installments published thus far.
I couldn’t sleep that night, chastising myself for bungling everything. I should have told Ed about Tim and Farrell and convinced Tim to go to the authorities or gone myself. A lifetime’s worth of “should’ves” flooded my mind.
Around 3:00 A.M., I slipped out of bed and sat by the window, gazing at the night sky.
I thought of Tim’s bleak future. With an assault on his record, it was unlikely any college would admit him. And could he ever again face his classmates? What would happen to him in his neighborhood?
Tim had once remarked in class that it was unfair that Gatsby died while Daisy and Tom went their happy way after causing the deaths of three people. I replied that life was unfair. How banal I sounded. But life is unfair. If it were fair, Classical High would have a caring, kind and wise headmaster; instead, we had Farrell.
The following day when Tim failed to report to homeroom, I called his home.
“Oh, Mr. Duncan, I’m just leaving for the hospital to visit my Tim,” she said, her voice filled with panic.
“He took an overdose of my sleeping pills last night.”
“Is he all right?”
“If I hadn’t checked in on him, he’d have died.”
Ed became eerily quiet when I told him.
“Ed, what’s wrong?”
“I’m not cut out to be a teacher.”
“Don’t talk nonsense.”
“Because of me a boy’s tried to kill himself.”
“You’re not the cause of Tim’s problems,” I said. “He’s gay, ashamed of it, and he’s got to come to terms with it.”
“If I hadn’t encouraged him to write about his life, then his stories wouldn’t have gotten around.”
“Writing about his life is the very thing that might save him.”
But as much as I tried, I couldn’t convince him that he wasn’t at fault.
“Did you press assault charges against Tim?”
“The security guard said I should, but I couldn’t.”
“Good. I’ll tell Tim.”
“The school will keep this in-house, won’t it?”
“Let’s hope so.”
When I arrived at the hospital, Mrs. O’Donnell was talking to her son, and when Tim saw me, he turned his face away.
“Mr. Duncan, how kind of you to come,” Mrs. O’Donnell said, reaching out to take my hands.
She left me alone with Tim. An awkward silence lingered as Tim continued to gaze out the window.
“Tim, you did a crazy thing.”
He turned toward me, his eyes spilling tears.
“I didn’t want anyone to know I’m gay.”
“Didn’t stop you from making a pass at Mr. Horgan,” I said bluntly, determined to get everything out in the open.
“I can’t believe it,” he said.
“That I trusted him.”
“He didn’t distribute your stories, if that’s what you mean. Someone broke into his file cabinet and we know who it was.”
“Who else? I intend to report what he did to you.”
“Don’t do it”
“I’ll deny it. I won’t have my sex life broadcasted in the media, and my mother humiliated.”
“Then I’ll have to deal with Farrell myself. Mr. Horgan isn’t pressing any charges against you.”
He sobbed, and I put my arms around him.
“We’ll get through this,” I said.
He wiped his eyes with the top of his sheet.
“Tim, you need therapy.”
“I thought I could change myself by sheer will,” he said. “My mother hopes to become a grandmother, and I haven’t the heart to tell her that it won’t happen.”
“You must tell her.”
Mrs. O’Donnell was standing at the door.
“Tell me what?”
“Timmy, what is it?”
“Ma, I’m gay.”
Approaching the bed, she said, “I know.”
“You know?” His eyes widened in surprise.
“Your stories were hanging out of your school bag,” she said. “I thought it was your school work, and I read them. “
She enfolded Tim’s hands in hers.
“I love you no matter what.”
His mother and I talked in the waiting room; I informed her about Tim’s stories being released in school, his assault on Ed and Tim’s pass at Ed.
“Tim talks about him all the time. Could my son be in love with him?”
“He lost his friend, the one he wrote about. To lose two people you love, it could make you suicidal, couldn’t it?”
“What about my son’s future?”
“Mr. Horgan isn’t pressing charges. As for his suicide attempt, again, no one has to know, but Tim should be in therapy.”
She agreed to pursue it.
The next day Ed didn’t show up for work. A distraught Ronny answered my phone call.
“John, he won’t get out of bed and won’t talk to me.”
I explained about Tim’s pass and his assault on Ed.
“I hope he never returns to that horrible school,” she said and hung up.
That night I dreamt of Ed. He and I were attending an exhibit of abstract art at the Museum of Fine Arts. There was an enormous crowd in the Torf Gallery. Ed smiled, pleased that the exhibit had drawn so many visitors. I kept close to him as he stood before the first painting, an exuberant splash of red, yellow and blue circling but not quite overwhelming a black center. Then I lost him in the crowd and panicked, searching everywhere but failing to find him.
I made my way to the main staircase of the museum, passing through the medieval tapestry gallery toward the Evans Wing where I gazed at Manet’s Monk in Prayer. I stared at the monk’s eyes, and it slowly dawned on me that tears were streaming down his cheeks. When I realized it was Ed’s face, I screamed. I awoke to find myself in Iris’ arms.
“Honey, you had a nightmare. You’re all right… calm down, calm down.”
“I was dreaming of Ed.”
“I know, honey, I know.”
She held me in her arms as she once held our Leland when he had awakened from bad dreams. She held me for the rest of the night.
ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, later published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, later published in limited-edition paperback; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”